It’s all good-natured foodie craic that I mostly welcome and enjoy. And to be fair, a couple of really good tip-offs have been garnered from such encounters. Sometimes though, within the slew of hints, tips, pointers and reviews from fellow table-jockeys, the odd gem does slip under the radar.
This week I finally visit a restaurant that has been gushingly recommended for I don’t know how long.
Camden Kitchen is a cosy compact little space on Grantham Street just outside the centre of Dublin city. The first thing that tweaks my interest is the calm serenity of the open kitchen. During a busy service it simmers along sweetly without ever reaching boiling point.
I always think good food should be served on a plain white plate, it shouldn’t resemble an art installation decorated to death with tweezers and a surgical pipette. And above all, it should simply taste good.
That doesn’t mean I only want to sample edible dreariness and disregard new and exciting chefy innovations. Getting the balance right is what counts. And therein, I guess, lies the secret.
My starter fits that description perfectly. Crispy smoked haddock croquettes look vibrant and delightful – like spring on a plate. With sidekicks of smoked salmon, sliced fennel, baby leaves and aïoli, they are exactly what I want in a starter.
A big juicy pork chop is up next and, much like the croquettes, it tastes as delicious as it looks. Rarely have I sampled a chop that hasn’t been overcooked to the point of stringy – this is an outstanding flawlessly cooked piece of piggy.
Alongside we have some gorgeous creamy mustard mash, a fine mess of green earthy savoy cabbage and a luscious lick of heavenly gravy. However, a black pudding partner is a pointless greasy blob that really doesn’t work.
Plating on both dishes is precise, perfectly balanced, and speaks of a chef who knows his game and, most importantly, knows where to stop.
The only weakness I find is with the rhubarb crumble. In the construction department, it is superbly executed, but strangely and annoyingly it is overwhelmingly and blisteringly hot. Even mixing in the accompanying vanilla ice-cream fails to quell the excessive heat.
I’m sure the problem is mostly a straightforward timing issue and I don’t imagine for a second overusing the dreaded microwave was the cause. Aside from that minor boo-boo, I enjoyed a memorable meal, a fantastic glass of Sauvignon Blanc and a composed professional service handled by a brace of excellent waiters.
I have to say, I’m glad I finally made the visit and found that neither the hype nor the tip-offs were over the top. By serving delicious food in laid-back surroundings at very realistic prices, Camden Kitchen is a gem destined to become a star. And I can’t say fairer than that at €29.45.
Verdict: A very healthy 4/5.